> our title:

French Reaper UAVs Now Fully Operational

> original title:

Reaper Drones In Sahel Now Part of ISR Assets of French Armed Forces

(Source: French Ministry of Defense; issued Jan 30, 2014)

(Issued in French only; unofficial translation by Defense-Aerospace.com)

A videoconference briefing from Niamey, Niger, by Lieutenant Colonel Christophe Fontaine, commander of the French air force’s 1/33 "Belfort" drone squadron, provided an opportunity for Paris-based correspondents to discuss the capability gains related to the arrival of two MQ- 9 Reaper drones, the latest ISR assets to enter service with the French armed forces.

Faced with a growing operational requirement in the Sahel region, in parallel with the need to replace the four previous-generation Harfang MALE drones operated by the air force, the Ministry of Defense decided to buy two General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper drones under the urgent operational requirement (UOR) procedures.

Both aircraft, together with the entire system, were deployed in late December after the completion by their crews of the requirement training courses in the United States.

The MQ- 9 Reaper is a latest-generation drone that embodies the experience gained with its predecessor, the MQ-1 Predator. The unmanned aircraft is equipped with the latest technologies for both airframe and sensors: it is faster (its cruising speed is twice that of the Harfang), has greater endurance, and it is equipped with very high accuracy optical sensors. The sensor package combines radar, infrared, and electro- optical sensors, which can function simultaneously.

"The air force’s drones are not robots” as human operators remain at the center of the system. In addition, the French air force’s operational concept is different to that of other nations: France deploys the entire system in-theater, so as to be more responsive by being closer to the forces it is supporting.

The detachment is responsible for maintaining and operating the two drones (remotely-piloting the aircraft, processing and analyzing their tactical data before it is distributed through the chain of command). The unit is a full squadron that operates, at the same time, both types of MALE drones (4 Harfang and 2 Reapers).

The urgency of this acquisition means that part of the operational sustainment and support is contracted to General Atomics; this has no impact on operations. It is important to note that this rapid deployment of the two Reapers has only been possible because of the experience of the 1/33 "Belfort" squadron’s personnel.

This capability to operate both types of drone allows for greater sortie generation, and thus improves intelligence capabilities, which now include “full-motion video” that are available to French forces in the theater of operations.